LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Residents demand to know how Newark Police Department will be reformed

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Residents packed a church on South 15th Street in Newark, demanding answers to the consequences that would follow if the Newark Police Department fails to reform under a consent decree with the Justice Department after finding that Newark had engaged in unconstitutional policing, among other findings.

Federal Monitor Peter Harvey told the attendees that it depends on the failure. Harvey and his team came to share the results of their second quarterly report on reforms.

He said with community input, the Newark Police has new policies on bias-free policing and reporting use of force. He’s demanding police draft policies on: stop, search and detain; Internal Affairs; and other major areas by the end of the year.

“Until you write the policy, you can’t write the training. Until you write the training, you can’t administer the training. And until you administer the training, you don’t get different behavior on the street,” said Harvey.

Harvey said police need to hire trainers with experience.

“[That’s] because we don’t have the time to wait for people to learn how to do it,” said Harvey.

Harvey said Newark has about 1,000 officers. The last training director left and left the department was without someone to interpret and explain court rulings, for instance, and how to put them into action. He said when police educators learn of that fact, “they can’t believe it.”

The federal monitor said Newark needs to spend $8 million to replace its dilapidated property and evidence building. You could hear the suspicion as he explained a recent audit found items had been misplaced or mishandled, not stolen.

“It’s been removed and shouldn’t have been removed. The policies weren’t followed,” said Harvey.

Harvey said the monitoring team found inadequate record keeping policies, and that combined with archaic data collection, rob the department of an early warning system on officer behavior.

“If you don’t have the data systems that help you identify it, you won’t be able to discover it. You’ll have to wait until some catastrophic event occurs for you to really unearth it and we shouldn’t have to wait for that.”

Harvey said the team has begun randomly checking to see if Internal Affairs has thoroughly investigated cases

“For any department, any department, to be strong over time, you must have a strong Internal Affairs Department. Those are the cops who police the cops,” Harvey said.

As the independent monitor was detailing what is in the second quarterly report, folks in the audience wanted to ask questions about training of police.

“If they’re coming in here, they need to understand the whole history. So is that involved in the training?” asked one resident.

Resident Sheila Reid asked about the psychological training.

“That is covered in a really good use of force training program,” said Harvey.

In their voices, you could hear residents yearning for reform and for it to have meaning. One man insisted it can only come if the Civilian Complaint Review Board, that is being challenged in court, has subpoena and other powers.

“If that component, among others, is not there, do you still feel that all of these bars could be reached?” he asked.

“I think the overwhelming majority of them can be reached without subpoena power,” he said.

“What’s your confidence to think once that these polices are implemented that they will be adhered to, because it’s the same issues from 50 years ago?” said another resident.

“I have a greater deal of confidence today than I would have had 50 years ago,” Harvey replied.

Harvey said police leadership and City Hall leadership are much different than 50 years ago. The public safety director said Newark may have to raise taxes to meet the multi-million dollar price tag of improvement.

“We definitely have some improvement, but do we have total improvement, no. It’s going to take some time to change the culture of the department. One good thing is that we are getting younger classes graduating,” said Anthony Ambrose, director of Newark Public Safety.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice is part of the monitoring team and sets up these community engagement meetings.

“I think what’s important is that people are interested in not only what the consent decree says, but how it’s going to be implemented and practiced,” said Andrea McChristian, associate counsel for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

The consent decree expires in 2021.